The Issue - Sideline bans

5th November 2010 at 00:00
What is the best way to deal with that common fixture of modern school sports events - the ranting parent?

Red-faced parents turning the air blue, harassing referees, and embarrassing everyone around them - it is safe to say that most teachers would love to see an end to touchline tantrums.

But banning mothers and fathers from spectating altogether - a policy adopted for a number of after-school clubs in Coventry - is not necessarily the way forward.

The Coventry Sport Foundation, which runs a series of teams for under- eights in the city, introduced the ban to provide a "more relaxing environment" for the children, without the pressure of parents on the sidelines. But not everyone thinks it is a good idea.

"A blanket ban doesn't make sense," says Eileen Marchant, chair of the Association for Physical Education. "Sport is a great way to build community links, and schools that fail to involve parents are missing a great opportunity."

So how can teachers encourage positive support? "The key is to ensure everyone knows what kind of behaviour is and isn't acceptable," says John Matthews, a PE teacher of 25 years' experience. "Parents should be made welcome, but it has to be clear that the coach is in charge and that spectators are there as guests of the school."

Some schools ask parents to sign a written charter in which they pledge to accept the referee's decision, leave coaching to the coach, and support the whole team, not just their own child. Moving spectators 5m back from the touchline or training area can be a good way to ensure that they are not in children's faces. John Matthews also recommends holding team talks out of parents' earshot to prevent would-be Wengers or Mourinhos butting- in.

If a parent does prove difficult - and a 2008 survey by School Sport Magazine found that seven out of 10 PE teachers had experienced problems with abusive or violent supporters - a quiet word is the first step. If that fails, schools can ban a parent from the premises by writing a letter detailing the reasons. If the letter is ignored, it is possible to seek an injunction, but that can be a lengthy process.

In any case, always keep a record of incidents, and be sure never to discriminate against a pupil because of their parents' behaviour.

But tantrums are not the only reason why the Coventry foundation bars mothers and fathers from after-school events. Even if parents conduct themselves impeccably, there is a feeling that even their presence on the touchline can put children under pressure.

"It's a valid train of thought," says Professor Ian Maynard, a sport psychologist at Sheffield Hallam University. "It all comes down to the individual child. One parent may be vocal and critical, but their child might find that motivating. Another parent will say nothing, but their child might perceive a raised level of expectation and feel stressed."

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. "Young people learn to handle pressure by being exposed to pressure," adds Professor Maynard. "Learning to cope with expectation will make someone a better sports player, and it is an important life skill."

For John Matthews, however, school sport is not a testing ground for the future: it is all about the here and now. "It would be a crying shame to ban parents, because watching your kids play sport is one of life's great pleasures. Pressure doesn't come into it - once the whistle goes, children are completely focused on the game."

What to do

- Publish guidelines for parents, explaining the school's sporting values.

- The FA runs an online Soccer Parent course aimed at helping parents support their child positively. See www.thefa.comrespectguide

- Try to have a staff presence on the touchline at matches. If possible, use an external referee or umpire.

- Keep a detailed record of any incidents.

- Schools can only ban a parent from the premises. If training or matches are held off-site, the ban will not apply.

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